All entries for Thursday 24 August 2006

August 24, 2006

Charles Bernstein: 'Making Words Visible' (284–286)

Reviewing Hannah Weiner, The Clairvoyant Journal (1978).

Bernstein begins with this comment:

'We all see words: signs of a language we live inside of. & yet these words seem exterior to us—we see them, projections of our desires, and act, often enough, out of a sense of their demands.' (284)

Bernstein describes the poet, Weiner, as ''living a life inside of language' as she projects words onto people, objects and herself (284). These words are dictated to Weiner by voices. He writes of her as having a kind of omniscience about the working of language as she is 'inside language and looking out onto it' (284). Yet Weiner's work retains its energy via its diaristic qualities that 'fuse the eruptive elements ("voices")' (284). Bernstein is enlivened by the interruptions in the text that unsettle its linear arc – interruptions that ponder how to continue writing, that think self–consciously about the writing process.

Bernstein suggests that the fact that the book is made up of debris makes it an unsettling read. However, he is adamant that 'Weiner has explored—come upon—the language that fills, and often enough, controls our lives (everyday, common place: she says "group mind")' (286). Bernstein suggests that as she thinks self–consciously about language, Weiner offers the possibility of freeing oneself from domination by it.

The L=A=N-G=U=A-G=E Book . Ed. Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois Press, 1984.


Bernstein: 'Reading Cavell Reading Wittgenstein'

'The distortion is to imagine that knowledge has an "object" outside of the "language games" of which it is a part—that words refer to "transcendental signified" to use an expression from another tradition, rather than being part of a language which itself produces meaning in terms of its grammar, its conventions and its "agreements in judgement". Learning a language is not learning the names of things outside a language, as if it were simply a matter of matching up signifiers with signifieds, as if signifieds already existed and we were just learning new names for them [...] Rather we are initiated by language into a socious, which is for us the world. So that the foundations of knowledge are not so much based on a pre–existing empirical world as on shared conventions and mutual attunement.' (299)

In Boundary 2 (Vol IX, No. 2, 1981) 295–306.


Bernstein: Stray Straws and Straw Men (39-45)

'Whatever gets written gets written in a particular shape, uses a particular vocabulary and syntax, & a variety of chosen techniques. Whether its shape, syntax & vocabulary result from an attraction (or ideological attachment to) the organic and spontaneous, or to some other look, it is equally chosen. Sometimes this process takes place intuitively or unconsciously (the pull of influence comes in here since somewhere in the back of the mind are models for what looks natural, personal, magical, mystical, spontaneous, automatic, dreamlike, confessional, didactic, shocking). Sometimes it is a very conscious process. Any way, you're responsible for what turns up. Free association, for example, is no more inherently 'natural' than cutting up: & neither is in any sense 'random'. One technique may be used because a decision is made to use subconscious material. Another may be used to limit vocabulary of the poem to words not self–generated. In either case, various formal decisions are made & these decisions shape the work.' (43)

'Writing necessarily consists of attaching numerous bits and pieces together in a variety of ways. & it comes to a point here you feel any composition is artifice and deceit. & the more 'natchural' the look the more deceptive. That any use of language outside its function of communicating in speaking is a false hood (cf. Laura Riding). Or even that language itself—everywhere conditioning our way of seeing & meaning— is an illusion (as if there were something outside language.

Or take it this way: I just want to write—let it come out— get in touch with some natural process—from brain to pen—with no interference of typewriter, formal pattern. & it can seem like the language itself—having to put it into words— any kind of fixing a version of it—gets in the way. That I just have this thing inside me—silently—unconditioned by the choices I need to make when I write—whether it be to write it down or write on. So it is as if language itself gets in the way of expressing this thing, this flow, this movement of consciousness.

But there are no thoughts except through language, we are everywhere seeing through it, limited to it but not by it. Its conditions always interpose themselves: a particular set of words to choose from (a vocabulary), a way of processing those words (syntax, grammar): the natural conditions of language. What pulses, pushes, is energy, spirit, anima, dream, fantasy: coming out always in form, as shape: these particulars, 'massed at material bottoms' in hum of this time—here now—these words, this syntax & rhythm & shape. The look of the natural as constricted, programmatic—artful—'lying words' as the most abstract, composed or formal work.' (44)

The L=A=N-G=U=A-G=E Book . Ed. Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois Press, 1984.


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